Intense, deeply detailed, and compassionate account of the atomic bomb’s effects on the people and city of Nagasaki, then and now.
The generation of hibakusha, or atomic-bomb survivors, is sadly passing away, as journalist and artistic director Southard (Essential Theatre, Tempe, Arizona) acknowledges in her tracking of the experiences of five who were teenagers in the once-thriving port city of Nagasaki on Aug. 9, 1945. As the 70th anniversary of the dropping of the bomb over Nagasaki approaches, the author aims to enlighten her American audience, whose largely unequivocal stance about the rightness of forcing Japan to capitulate and the ignorance regarding radiation exposure the U.S. government took great pains to promote have kept readers unaware, she believes, of the magnitude of this nuclear annihilation—“a scale that defies imagination.” These five teenagers, and many like them, had all been enlisted in the war effort, as had their families in Nagasaki, one of Japan’s first Westernized cities, containing the largest Christian population. One of the teens delivered mail, one was a streetcar operator, and several worked in the Mitsubishi factories that lined the river. When the bomb obliterated the Urakami Valley, where many of them lived, all lost family members and were horribly injured and scarred for life. Southard’s descriptions stick to the eyewitness accounts of these and other survivors, and they are tremendously moving, nearly unbearable to read, and accompanied by gruesome photos. She alternates first-person accounts—e.g., reports by the Japanese doctors who first treated the burns and identified the subsequent radiation “sickness”—with an outline of the political developments at the war’s conclusion. The author emphasizes the postwar censorship imposed by the U.S. occupying force in Japan regarding the discussion of the bombing or radiation effects (see George Weller's First into Nagasaki), as well as the bravery of the hibakusha, who were determined to speak the truth.
A valiant, moving work of research certain to provoke vigorous discussion.